February 7, 2016, Fifth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Kings of ancient Judah wavered between faithfulness and independence from God. As a new king came to power, Isaiah, at a Temple liturgy, accepts a call to prophesy before the king.
In prior weeks we've heard what a boisterous church was in early Corinth. Some members challenged Saint Paul's credentials and his teaching about the resurrection. This is part of Paul's response.
A crowd of listeners is large enough to drive Jesus into a boat. But Jesus wants to turn some listeners into real followers.
Our Liturgical Setting: To prepare for today's first reading, review first today's gospel, Luke 5:1-11. Note that the disciples are just getting to know Jesus, who is gradually, by his deeds more than by words, revealing himself. Note at least these two themes common to both the gospel passage and the Isaiah reading:
Interestingly, our second reading describes the call of another unworthy apostle. (Interestingly because the lectionary's cycle of second readings and its cycle of gospel passages are independent of each other; each Sunday's gospel governs the choice of only the first reading.)
The Historical Background: In the late eighth century B.C.E., God's people in the promised land had become divided into a northern kingdom, Israel, and a southern kingdom, Judah. On the outside, Assyria was the dominant power in the region. A fourth nation, Syria, was vying for power, and trying to recruit Israel into its plots. Kings in Israel and Judah would sometimes entertain these schemes, and at other times rely faithfully on the Lord God to sustain them. This is the situation in which Isaiah finds himself called to speak God's word.
The Theological Background: Isaiah's vision expresses the ancient notion of God at a great remove from sinful humanity, across a gulf that can be bridged only by intermediaries like angels, and a gulf across which we can seldom even see. Yet God's angel reaches across that chasm to empower the humble prophet. Perhaps he needed to stress this in order to establish his credentials, since he was to speak to a king a divine alternative to a faithless royal scheme.
A Novel Approach to Your Proclamation: Imagine how you would direct Isaiah's vocation scene in a movie. After the angels cry out and the doorframe shakes and the house is filled with smoke, you'd order the camera to focus on Isaiah's dumbstruck face. But you'd make Isaiah pause before speaking. The camera would linger on him, as his silence tells what's in his heart. So as lector, pause before relating Isaiah's first words. When you do speak, your tone of voice should reveal the great contrast you feel between what you've seen and what you know of yourself.
Pause again before and in the middle of the last paragraph of dialogue. The Lord should sound majestic, authoritative, yet genuinely in need of a human ambassador. Pause. Then, in a different, confident tone, state Isaiah's "Here I am. Send me."
The Historical Background: Corinth was a boisterous Greek seaport, and its early Christians did not exactly shed their culture at the church door. As we saw one, two, and three Sundays ago, Paul had to corral their extravagant and sometimes self-serving use of the spiritual gifts. On Holy Thursday, we saw how they needed to be reminded of their table manners, and of sound doctrine, when celebrating the Lord's Supper.
So perhaps it shouldn't surprise us that some Corinthians questioned Paul's authority and disputed the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Paul addresses the latter question in 1 Corinthians 15:12-20, the second reading on the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time, but he prepares for that argument by reviewing the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. This consists of the testimony of known, reliable witnesses, and Paul's own vision of the risen Christ.
Proclaiming the Resurrection Witness (verses 1-7): To proclaim this part, imagine yourself not a movie director, but a trial lawyer giving your final argument to the jury. You summarize the items of evidence and witnesses' testimony one at a time, methodically and rhythmically.
Proclaiming Paul's Apostolic Credentials (verses 8-11): Paul's calling to be an apostle, unlike the calling of Peter, James and John in today's gospel, did not come from the itinerant rabbi Jesus in any ordinary setting, but from the risen Christ in a vision that left Paul blind. Nor did Paul have the neutral, uncommitted background of the other apostles; rather, he was an active persecutor of Christians, a smug witness to the first execution of a Christian martyr. So his claim to apostolic authority needs some backing up. His proofs:
The prophet Isaiah, at the Santuário do Bom Jesus de Matosinhos, Congonhas, Brazil. The 18th-century Brazilian artist Aleijadinho created this and many other statues at the shrine, now recognized as a World Heritage Site. The text on the scroll means "After the seraphim celebrated the Lord, one of them brought to my lips a burning coal with tongs." Click here for a good overview of the site and its artworks.
Lector's Notes should be easily readable on any device, including small-screen ones like cell phones and tablets. This is among the first of a few hundred pages to be converted to a responsive format (responsive to the kind of screen you are using). So when you're not serving as lector, and you arrive at church and mute your cell phone, you can brief yourself on the readings you're about to hear. Format conversion is a work-in-progress and will be so until maybe April of 2018.
This page updated February 8, 2016